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Posted on October 7, 2016

Empowering women, sharing wisdom

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of attending a breakfast event titled “Women in Business: Making Change” that supported one of my all-time favorite non-profits, Dress for Success.

When people think about Dress for Success, they often think of the suits the organization provides to women who are pursuing new professional opportunities. But Dress for Success does so much more – in pursuing its mission of empowering women to achieve economic independence, they provide coaching, job training and workshops to give women the confidence, knowledge and support they need to succeed.

There’s a special energy in the air when you sit in a room filled with highly driven, accomplished women coming together to support an organization that’s devoted to lifting up other women. And just when I thought the morning couldn’t get any better, Carla Harris took the stage. Carla is one of those speakers who instantly grabs your attention – as soon as she started her all-too-brief discussion, I found myself whipping out my notebook to furiously jot down some of her words of wisdom.

And trust me, Carla is very wise when it comes to matters of women at work. After all, she’s a black woman who has spent her entire career in a world dominated by white men – Wall Street. Today, Carla is Vice Chairman, Wealth Management, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, and she also chairs the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC), an advisory panel to Congress and President Barack Obama on economic issues important to female business owners. She’s a respected author and speaker, regularly sharing the many lessons she’s gained throughout her career.

Here are a few of my favorite “pearls” of wisdom from Carla Harris:

Perception is the co-pilot to reality.

  • If you read my blog posts or follow my tweets, you know I’m a huge believer in authentic leadership. But Carla makes an important and often overlooked point – that in building your career, you must consider how you are perceived by those around you, because their perception is closely tied to your future career progression. Carla explained that it is possible to teach people how to perceive you:
    • She suggests thinking of 3 adjectives that you want people to use to describe you when you’re not in the room.
    • Then, think about 3 adjectives that are highly valued in your organization.
    • Where those words intersect is how you must behave CONSISTENTLY. If you’re consistent, before long you will shift their perceptions and soon, your reality.


Focus on relationships.

  • Especially early in their career, people tend to spend a lot of time generating “performance currency” – going above and beyond to deliver outstanding work and exceed expectations (I know I did!). That tenacity and drive is so important as you’re first trying to build your reputation at work. But as you progress in your career, “relationship currency” becomes increasingly important. As Carla explained, “The value of relationship currency never diminishes. You must have a relationship with every single role that touches your role – it’s those relationships that will help you advance your career.”


Get comfortable taking risks.

  • This pearl was clear and simple – “If you consider yourself a leader in the 21st century, you MUST be comfortable taking risks.” Based on her many successes and failures over her career, Carla concludes that it’s ALWAYS worth taking a risk. After all, with each failure comes the gift of experience. It’s the things you learn when you fail that will secure your success the next time around. To drive the point home, Carla delivered the most powerful line in her talk – a line I think I want to get tattooed on my arm! “Fear has NO place in your success equation.”


I loved Carla’s pearls of wisdom – they strongly resonated with me as a woman and business leader, but I think they have relevance and meaning for men and women at all ages and stages. I left the event not only inspired to own my success, but also to continue to help other women own theirs.

Ann Melinger